Australia’s struggling outfit has received some much needed good news after Ryan Harris was cleared of a serious shoulder injury and passed fit for next week’s crucial third Ashes Test. Harris suffered the problem during the heavy loss in Adelaide, where he was the team’s best bowler, but scans showed there was no significant damage.
Harris’ health provides only one answer for the battered hosts, who went 1-0 down with the crushing innings defeat on Tuesday. The squad for the Perth match, which starts next Thursday, is expected to be named on Friday and by then the selectors will have had a week of headaches caused by the damaging bowling and batting issues.
Mitchell Johnson is in Perth training alongside Troy Cooley, the team’s bowling coach, in the WACA nets instead of playing for Western Australia in the Sheffield Shield match against Queensland from Friday. The move shows he is almost certain to return after being dropped last week for the first time in his Test career.
Any hopes the selectors had of giving Johnson, who has not been able to click in two Ashes series, an extended break ended when Doug Bollinger and Peter Siddle struggled for consistency as England reached 5 for 620 declared in Adelaide. At least the selectors know that Johnson can deliver random brutal spells, which is something the side needs after taking only six wickets for 1137 runs in the past two innings.
Bollinger’s fitness and effectiveness were below par so he is unlikely to make the squad, while Siddle hasn’t taken a wicket since he broke through with six on the opening day of the series. Ben Hilfenhaus, who will be valuable bowling into the WACA’s Fremantle Doctor breeze, and Johnson are likely to join Harris, who collected 2 for 84 off 29 overs in his third Test.
Harris is capable of moving the ball during most stages of the innings and also operates in the 140kphs, but his body will never allow him to take his position for granted. He has a chronic knee injury that gives him constant pain and his latest problem provides another concern.
However, Alex Kountouris, Australia’s physiotherapist, said Harris’ shoulder injury was minor. “He was able to bowl during the game unrestricted and scans have cleared him of any significant damage,” Kountouris said.
Ricky Ponting met with Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, after the match on Tuesday to discuss the way forward and senior Cricket Australia officials have also been in talks as the hosts attempt to prevent a first Ashes loss at home since 1986-87. The selectors are expected to name a 13-man squad, as they did for the opening two matches, and must decide whether to tinker or deliver wholesale changes.
There will be at least one alteration, with Simon Katich’s serious heel injury leaving a spot for either Phillip Hughes or Usman Khawaja. The spin position also needs resolving after Xavier Doherty’s ineffective performances over the first two Tests.
Nathan Hauritz is in form with the bat – he scored 146 as a nightwatchman for New South Wales this week – but needs some wickets in the second innings to show he is ready for a recall. Steven Smith, the legspinning allrounder, is another contender and the confusion over the slow bowling ranks will probably earn a reprieve for the No.6 Marcus North, who doubles as the part-time offspinner.